My Work, My Self
Contributor
Written by
Hope J Lafferty
January 2016
Contributor
Written by
Hope J Lafferty
January 2016

Six months ago, I faced a dilemma. An internal dilemma that pitted self against self. I mused about how wearing two hats as a writer—one technical, one literary—split my focus. I felt forced to choose. I chose the one that paid my bills, the one I built a business around, the one that had a web presence. The one where I wore the hat of a medical writer.

What I most feared by outing myself as a creative writer was that my professional work would not be taken seriously—and that I would compromise my primary source of income. I placed my chips on the professional side, and in the last six months, that decision has yielded many creative insights. Both my business and my creative work have moved in directions I would not have imagined at the time.

Making a Decision Is Still a Choice

First, I shifted my day job (ie, my medical writing business) into one that relied less on writing and editing work for other people. I started writing more for myself. Not that I abandoned my focus, but I shifted from tactician to strategist. I built on my existing workshops in scientific writing and developed curricula and content that came more from my training in creative writing and less on the edicts of contemporary scientific writing.

From there, I began exploring new ways to deliver content. Online training firms are now hosting my talks as webinars, which is old news for many, but was an exciting turn of events for me. The years I spent in radio prepped me both in script writing and for the one-sided conversations inherent in the medium. Lessons from that type of broad-reach marketing have also encouraged me to update and repackage my content. Another creative pursuit in my own voice, so to speak.

Further, because I intentionally pulled back from writing and editing jobs, I used the time to work on my creative works, namely a memoir and some essays that should see the light of day this year. Creativity begets creativity. Who knew?

By the end of the summer, my work had shifted and all the types of writing I engage in became a regular part of my week. Plus, the webinars, website, blog on scientific writing practice, and interviews on Science Writing Radio were great fun. I attended the annual meeting of medical writers in the fall, and my professional colleagues were quite vocal about all I’d been up to.

Comments from the Peanut Gallery

I know a few creative writers in the medical writing world—playwrights, poets, graphic novelists, and screenwriters—and it’s always great to see them at these meetings to learn how their art is progressing. They’re building their platforms in various ways. Some have blogs for their stories. Some are performing. Some are in long-term writing groups. I’ve watched my friends over the years, and beyond writing and submitting, I’ve been seeking a creative presence that best suits me and my competing brands.

Over drinks on the last night of the conference, some friends and I were discussing the direction of my work, both professional and literary. One got a big smile on her face and said, “Hope, you need a podcast.” My thoughts went straight to the dilemma of my last post. I flipped the brands in my head, not knowing how a podcast would affect public perception of my work (ie, myself). I assented but deferred. “I just don’t know what the podcast would be about.”

On the drive back from Texas to Tennessee (second to writing, road trips are my favorite pastime), I digested all that came from the medical writing conference. Because I work for myself, I relish the opportunity to connect with other folks in my field, and the aftermath of the conference always fuels new ideas (last year, it was deciding to launch my speaking and training business). Someplace in Arkansas, after hours listening to the Mansion of Fun on satellite radio, it hit me.

I was thinking about my friend that posts his stories in blog form. He has a lot of followers and it seems like the right fit for him. I’m more of a traditionalist regarding my creative writing. Even blogs of my opinions are sporadic, and as competitive as it is, I feel more comfortable pursuing journal submissions for my finished work than publishing them online myself.

But, I got to thinking that I had all these unfinished pieces sitting in notebooks. Rough rough drafts. First thoughts. Free writes. Fiction beginnings that I had marked to flesh out, but had not gotten around to. Explosions from my mind that have stunned my writing partners, classmates, and even teachers (Natalie Goldberg responded “Wow!” to one of my free writes instead of her trademarked “Thank you.” Highlight of my life.) This was the mine to be tapped. Or taped.

For many years, I’ve wanted to produce a program like Joe Frank’s Work in Progress, a series of short radio plays, mostly unfinished, with transcendent music beds and odd and haunting storylines. I made a small attempt when I produced the short-lived third-wave feminist radio program Girlie Magazine in the mid-1990s. With radio reinvigorated via podcasts, I had my medium. And now my message. Fuel For Free Writes was born.

Message from Our Sponsors

I had a number of professional meetings this fall with medical researchers (ie, my market). I’ve been surprised and pleased by the number of folks that not only think it’s important to teach writing to scientists, but that also resonate with my creative projects, from my essays, to the memoirs I’m working on, to, now, the podcast. They seem particularly keen on the idea that the podcast is designed to stimulate creativity for its listeners and that the timed music beds are available separately.

A great moment came when I was offering a 2-day scientific writing program at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. Before my morning talk, my host faculty introduced me by citing not only my long history as a medical writer and editor, but also by mentioning my various professional and creative pursuits, from organizational consulting to my work as an essayist. He saw my work as a contiguous theme. He viewed me as a whole person. Why should I not do the same?

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